Telephone scams

Exposed: fake immigration officers scam Hongkongers out of nearly HK$10 million

Police warn people to be wary of phone scams after new ruse surfaces involving pre-recorded voice calls claiming there are Immigration Department mail items waiting for victims to collect

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 9:28am

Telephone con artists posing as Hong Kong immigration officers have duped 16 people out of nearly HK$10 million in the first eight months of this year, prompting police to warn people to be wary of phone scams.

The new ruse surfaced in March, and over the following three months eight victims were cheated out of more than HK$8.8 million, according to police.

There were no reports of such cases in June or July, but police said the trick resurfaced last month, with scammers pocketing HK$778,000 from eight people.

This week, a university professor and a businesswoman were among at least three victims swindled out of more than HK$4 million in total.

According to police, the victims received pre-recorded voice calls that claimed there were Immigration Department mail items waiting for their collection. They were instructed to press a button to inquire further.

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The calls were then transferred to scammers posing as Hong Kong immigration officers who accused the victims of breaking mainland laws on money laundering because their personal information had been used in criminal cases. The calls were then transferred to someone who claimed to be from mainland police.

“The victims were persuaded to prove their innocence and asked to transfer their assets to mainland bank accounts for investigative purposes,” Chief Inspector Tam Wai-shun of the Kowloon East regional crime unit said.

He said some victims who did not have mainland bank accounts were lured to go to Shenzhen and open a bank account.

The victims realised they had been cheated when they found the money had been taken out of their mainland accounts.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tam said police had noticed an increase in reports of phone scams recently, and they urged the public to stay alert.

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The number of phone scams involving fraudsters posing as mainland officials rose from three cases in June to 48 cases last month.

Tam’s warning came just hours after an Aberdeen resident, 37, called police saying she had been duped out of HK$910,000 after she received calls from scammers posing as staff from a courier company and mainland police.

On Tuesday, a 51-year-old man made a report to police saying he had been cheated out of 2.9 million yuan (HK$3.37 million) by phone scammers posing as logistics company staff and a mainland police officer.

Police said phone scam syndicates swindled 149 people out of HK$110 million in the first eight months of this year. The city’s biggest scam victim was a 52-year-old Yuen Long resident cheated out of more than HK$58 million.

Figures show about one-fourth of the victims were students and included 13 students from the mainland.

Senior Inspector Cheng Chak-yan of the Kowloon East regional crime unit said the victims also included professionals, businesspeople, housewives and retirees.

He said 34.9 per cent of the 149 victims were new migrants from the mainland.

“Police will continue to maintain close liaison with mainland authorities to combat phone scams,” he said, adding that police would alert the public to the crime through different channels.

Scammers typically pose as mainland and Hong Kong government officials and accuse their victims of breaking the law. They demand large amounts of money as a way to prove a victim’s innocence and settle the issue.